Before you create your business plan, create your life plan

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The first thing most aspiring entrepreneurs do to move their great idea forward is create a business plan.  This is a critical and important step, but if you create it without first considering what kind of life you want to live, you may find yourself disillusioned with your business success.

So before you create a business plan, create a life plan.

A life plan details the kind of life you would have that would make you happy, healthy and fulfilled.  It includes things like:

  • Where you live
  • What kind of home you have
  • Who you are working with
  • What kind of work you do
  • How you spend your day
  • How much money you make
  • The state of your physical and emotional health
  • Life priorities such as amount of time working vs. spending time with family vs. community involvement

If you have a family, your life plan is created as a joint effort.  Each person in the household (wife/husband/partner/kids/parents if you are caring for elders) should weigh in on the kind of life that would be ideal.  Of course everyone won’t agree with each other’s priorities, but you should be able to gain agreement on some major areas.

Rich and Jeff Sloan, founders of Startup Nation and authors of Open for Business put creating a life plan as the first step in their Ten Steps to Open for Business program.  This is a practical, informative and free online resource that help you create a life plan document, as well as work through the other 9 steps to open a business.  (I shamelessly plug Startup Nation all the time since I have found Rich and Jeff to be the real deal – passionate, thoughtful, committed and truly out to serve their market with great information.  And I did not receive one cent to say that, for any of you cynical folks out there 🙂

Your life plan will serve as the guide for all decisions that you make about your business, from the type of business structure you choose to the market you serve and the products and services you offer.

I will use my own life plan as an example:

Our five-year plan includes moving to Sedona, Arizona from where we currently live in the Phoenix area.  This is important to my husband and I because:

  • Our baby son Josh loves the outdoors and will have to spend at least 4 months of the year indoors if we stay in Phoenix (which gets to 120 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer)
  • The land of Sedona is physically beautiful (see the picture in this post) and there are lots of areas for hiking, exploring and meditating in nature, which are our all-time favorite activities
  • I want to build up a set of retreats as part of my business, and Sedona would be a perfect destination.  Its natural beauty is great for introspective work and it includes many top-notch hotels and resorts
  • It is closer to the Navajo reservation where many of my husband’s relatives live.  He has a construction business, and his long-term goal is to train young men and women on the reservation in his trade so that they can be prosperous and self-sufficient
  • It has personal significance for my husband since he used to ride to Sedona by horseback to collect herbs with his grandpa, who was a medicine man.  He feels peaceful and at home there.

There are many more personal and professional reasons why we love Sedona, but the point of this example is to show that all decisions we make about our business will keep our long-term goal in mind.

In my husband’s business:

  • He must continue to buy new equipment and train operators to run and service it without him nearby
  • He must take advantage of the tremendous development in the Phoenix area in the next few years and build relationships with developers to ensure that business is steady and strong
  • He must remove himself from the day-to-day operations so that he can focus on the big picture

In my business:

  • I must continue to build community and gain exposure so that I can continue to run a viable coaching business from my home
  • I must research the Sedona area extensively to identify good partners for the retreat business
  • We both must save money and keep cosmetic improvements to our house at a minimum so that we have the capital to fund our long-term goals (and buying land and building a house in Sedona isn’t cheap!)

Once you have a life plan in place, it becomes very easy to make decisions about the kind of business you want to create.  The best part is that it ensures that once your business takes off and you experience financial success, you will be happy with the life that you have created.  I cannot tell you how many miserable multi-millionaire entrepreneurs I met in my years in Silicon Valley.  I believe they were miserable because they got too enamored with business growth at all costs and didn’t see creating a great business as a means to create a great life.

Even if you are not planning on becoming an entrepreneur in the near future, your life plan will be invaluable for career planning.  Try it and let me know how it turns out!

11 Responses to “Before you create your business plan, create your life plan”

  1. Ali Davies says:

    This is such an important point Pam, yet many people carry on living by accident and settling for mediocrity when they could design their ideal life and create awesome. I think it would help if people stopped chasing the mythical and flawed concept of work life balance and started designing life instead.

  2. gene says:

    great post – a side product of this process of creating a clear and well visualised set of outcomes, is that it will help your mind stay tuned in to your goal & help it become a reality.

  3. GL says:

    Although I don’t currently have a business, my fiancee (who lives in Phoenix) and I are faced with similar decisions in exactly the same geographical areas… if we decide to live in AZ. Our wrencher right now is deciding whether I should cut ‘cubicle’ roots here in the East and move there, or whether we want to escape back East in the summers… but Sedona is closer and indeed special.

    If I do try for a business, it’ll be “at home” (like yours) and, $ willing, won’t take up ALL of my time.


  4. Astha says:

    I love reading your posts. Their like a dish of wisdom, spiced with passion!

    And I totally agree with the observation that you’ve got to have a life plan, a direction. That way block by block you can build something meaningful.

    However, you’ve got to make sure you’ve meandered enough to settle on a course.

    Scott, from HELLO, my name is BLOG puts it very aptly:

    Limited references create a limited life. If you want to expand your life, you must expand your references by pursuing ideas and experiences that wouldn’t be a part of your life if you didn’t consciously seek them out.

  5. Steve says:

    Great article. The human nervous system is goal-seeking. Having a plan with clear parameters will go a long way towards keeping problems at bay and it enhances your chances for success.

    Some more tips for kicking this principle into overdrive:
    1)State goals in the positive (don’t think about what you don’t want… you risk drifting towards whatever you’re thinking of!)

    2)Make a mental image of yourself having accomplished all these things and step right into it. See, hear, feel and smell every component of that experience. This will really give your goal-seeking brain something to work with.

    3)Enjoy the ride!

  6. Rick Dobbs says:

    Can your site get any better? I think not.

    Thanks so much for showing what your plans are as an example, that helped tons.

  7. Shari says:

    Excellent advice! Last year we downsized our business because life got in the way. Now that we are in the process of relocating our business and rewriting our business plan, your timely post will help us write our life plan first. Thank you!

  8. Simon says:

    There is a great proverb. “When the student is ready, the master will appear”. This weekend has been just that for me.
    I too stepped straight into the Business plan first, life as an afterthought approach, and an event late last week, halted me in my tracks.
    Today you blog about the very subject I spent several hours reading about yesterday. Bo Burlingham – Small Giants : Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big, (he talks indepth about 13 companies that had a “heart-felt” business moment at a critical time).

    Thank so much for the post, and for pointing me to Rich and Jeff’s site….I’m on my way over there right now.

  9. Randy says:

    Andrew pretty much said it all, bravo.

    BTW the URL I linked isn’t my blog, it is one I am trying to get going for my mother in-law.

  10. Max Leibman says:

    Well said!

    I would add one more facet–I would submit that a draining, miserable form of success can arise from having a great business plan but no clear life plan, but I believe there’s another oft-overlooked risk here. Success isn’t nearly as likely to flow from a business that pulls you away from a great life in the first place.

    It’s possible to work hard at a great business plan and end up both successful (in the business sense) and disillusionedly miserable; however, isn’t one more likely to have business success in the first place if it is pursued as an integrated part of a healthy, fulfilling lifestyle?

  11. Andrew says:

    I could not agree more with this very informative post. You offer great advice to avoid falling into the success trap. Meaning you work yourself to the bone to become financially successful and then find yourself set with money but no direction for your life as a whole. A life plan is the right place to start for getting your life on track .